Rig Rundown: Theo Katzman
How the Vulfpeck picker travels the funk fantastic—with a compact pedalboard, a two-amp setup, and some classic-style axes.
Theo Katzman plays with a fluency and fire that makes this guitarist, producer, singer, and songwriter an MVP of modern, funk-fueled rock and pop. At a recent gig at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl outpost, Katzman—who’s also a member of the formidable Vulfpeck collective—invited PG’s Rig Rundown team to soundcheck, to see the gear that makes his tone sing. And Katzman’s tech, Nick “Turk” Nagurka, provided assistance.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.
Theo Katzman’s No. 1 is a Fender 1962 reissue that he’s had since he was 16. He stripped the Strat’s finish down to the bare wood, and then added an Ilitch Back Plate Hum Canceling system, which takes the noise out of the stock single-coil pickups. The Strat stays strung with D’Addario NYXL .010 sets. When Katzman plays with a pick, he uses Strum-N-Comfort SNC-ST/EXH/6 Sharktooth 1.5 mm Heavy Pearl Celluloids.
Katzman’s Tele is an $800 parts guitar with TV Jones pickups that he purchased on Reverb. It lives in open Eb and also has D’Addario NYXL .010s.
Black Hat Strat
This Japan-built ’62 reissue Strat has an oddball headstock, with what looks like black epoxy or resin covering most of what’s at the top of its Mike Cornwall neck. It’s tuned in open D and is used primarily for slide. The stings? Yep, D’Addario NYXL .010s.
Katzman uses two amps, sending a dry signal to his Benson Nathan Junior and a wet signal to his 1968 Fender Princeton Reverb loaded with a Celestion Greenback 12. Both amps face 90 degrees offstage, to prevent hitting the front row with a laser beam of awesome. The Princeton gets a Beyerdynamic M88, which complements the punchy midrange of the amp with a healthy proximity effect and rounds the top end out a bit.
Benson, Benson, Benson
The Benson has a bit more grind and a more controlled tone. He uses a Sennheiser 906 for a dry, clear sound with minimal proximity effect. Both amps feed into the in-ear-monitor mix, hard panned left and right. Since there’s some degree of modulation from the pedalboard, that helps Katzman enjoy a sense of space in his sound. The front-of-house mix typically uses the Benson, too, since it has a more refined sound.
Theo Katzman's Pedalboard
The Magic of Contact Mics
Using a contact mic on your acoustic guitar has many advantages—and can open the door to some adventurous experimentation.
For example, during a chamber music concert, I placed a contact mic under the chess board as we reenacted, move for move, the legendary 1972 World Chess Championship Game 6 of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, while rice grains were dropped on the board as the rest of the ensemble made an ongoing soundtrack. (I highly recommend watching HBO’s 2011 documentary, Bobby Fischer Against The World.) In short, it’s my go-to initial technique for making totally new sounds, textures, timbres, samples, and sound design that I incorporate into my music. Tighten up your belts, the Dojo is now open.
Before we start, there are many benefits of using a contact microphone. It can pick up sounds that are not audible to the human ear. For example, if you attach the microphone to a metal surface and strike it with a mallet, you will hear not only the sound of the mallet hitting the metal, but also the vibrations of the metal itself. Which is exactly how Ben Burtt got the blaster sound effects for Star Wars—by hitting a certain radio tower’s support wire (guy wire) in the Mojave Desert.
“It’s my go-to initial technique for making totally new sounds, textures, timbres, samples, and sound design that I incorporate into my music.”
Recently, I showed our students at the Blackbird Academy how to create new samples and sounds by attaching a contact mic to the outside of a 5-gallon water jug, then pouring water inside and hitting the side of the jug while gently swirling the water. We eventually ended up with an entire “water jug” drum kit.
Another benefit of using a contact microphone is that it can eliminate unwanted background noise. Because the microphone is only picking up vibrations from the surface it is attached to, it is less likely to pick up ambient noise in the room. However, because it is sensitive to vibrations, it may pick up unwanted sounds from handling or movement. Also, it may not capture the full range of frequencies that a traditional microphone would capture.
Lastly, they really come in handy for older vintage acoustic instruments that you may want to leave in their original state and have the flexibility to mic from any position without harming them.
Um … How Do I?
To use a contact microphone, you need to attach the microphone to the surface you want to capture the sound from. I only use Loctite Fun-Tak Mounting Putty because it is non-permanent, leaves no residue, and is non-tarnishing, malleable, and non-toxic. I simply place a tab of the Fun-Tak on the back of my contact mic and then mount it to whatever I want to record.
Check out Fig. 1. You can see I’ve attached my Zeppelin Labs Cortado MkIII mic ($159 street) to the headstock of my National Estralita Deluxe. This gives me that piezo/electric sound that I can in turn reamp or process with plugins, etc.
Be sure to experiment with different placements all over the instrument to find the sound you are looking for. Ever wonder what it might sound like inside your slide when playing slide guitar? Tape the mic on the top of your slide and play away. But don’t stop there! You could also place it on electronic kids’ toys that make noise (toy pianos, baby shakers, celeste, handheld electronic games), or pitched percussion, like kalimbas, log drums, vibraphones, and even cymbals. Or, think way outside the box—literally. Mount it on all kinds of cups, glasses, bowls, buckets, doors, and windows. Or on glass shower doors (outside the shower of course!), or the inside of your car windshield the next time you wash your car or it rains, flagpoles on windy days, park slides, merry-go-rounds, swing sets, and basically anything else you can imagine.
After you get some great source sounds, head back to the studio, keep what you like and process the sounds with reckless abandon. Until next time, namaste.
The John 5 Ghost Telecaster features an all-white fretboard, red killswitch, and debuts alongside a custom-branded instrument cable, leather strap, and a 6-pack of 351 celluloid picks.
“I’ve played Telecasters my whole life and getting to design my own is a dream come true,” said John 5. “When it came to design, I was inspired by some of Fender’s previous collaborations, but sought to create a model that would be both visually stunning and comfortable to play. Fender helped me design a Telecaster that was different from anything else on the market and the easy-to-play all-white fretboard and unique pickguard is proof of that. The leather strap and cable match the guitar’s white aesthetic and the pick visuals are absolutely killer!”
Introducing the John 5 Ghost Telecaster. It features a top-bound alder body and 1-piece maple neck finished in an enchanting Arctic White gloss and accented by striking red appointments and a gleaming mirrored pickguard/control plate.
Along with the Telecaster, John 5 wanted to give something extra to fans, which has come to life in his signature collection of accessories. The accessories collection includes a white leather strap with red suede backing, a 10’ cable in artic white with custom molded red ends and a six-pack of 351 celluloid picks featuring John 5’s logo and graphics as twisted as his Telecaster playing.
“Over the span of his career, John 5 has shown that his guitar skills know no bounds in terms of genre or sound,” said Justin Norvell, EVP of Product at FMIC. “The Ghost Telecaster® is a celebration of his iconic style, with a killswitch that allows rapid-fire stutter effects and a chrome pickguard that completes the stunning look of this guitar. Beyond that, the signature capsule collection allows John 5 to give fans something that celebrates the whole visual experience of his artistry, not just his inventive guitar playing.”
John 5, now guitarist for Mötley Crüe, started his career as a session player before establishing himself as the ax-man for hard rock heavyweights including David Lee Roth and Rob Zombie. For almost three decades, John 5 has become one of the most in-demand guitar players on the planet, having worked with an impressive array of talent from across the industry. An eternal student of music, John 5’s expansive knowledge of various genres shows up in his bluegrass licks, sweep-picking solos and high-speed chicken-pickin’ lines – all with a Fender Telecaster® in hand. This summer, John 5 can be seen shredding on the Ghost Telecaster, giving fans worldwide the chance to catch him in action while on tour with Mötley Crüe.
Exploring the Limited Edition John 5 Ghost Telecaster | Fender Artist Signature | Fender
Fender John 5 Ghost Telecaster - Arctic White with Maple Fingerboard
The John 5 Ghost Telecaster features a top-bound alder body and 1-piece maple neck finished entirely in an enchanting Arctic White gloss and accented by striking red appointments and a gleaming mirrored pickguard/control plate. DiMarzio D Activator humbuckers deliver harmonically rich modern crunch, harnessed by a performance-oriented control set with a 3-way toggle mounted to the upper bout for swift pickup switching and pickguard-mounted master volume and arcade-style "kill switch" for rapid-fire stutter effects. Deluxe locking tuners and 6-saddle tele bridge with block steel saddles ensure rock-solid tuning stability and spot-on intonation. The John 5 Ghost Telecaster is entombed in a custom white tolex hardshell case with crushed red interior featuring John 5 Ghost embroidery.